PSC Action Alert – Panorama ‘Death on the Med’ – contact the BBC 18Aug10 August 19, 2010

Action Alert: Death on the Med – The Next Steps

Thank you to all PSC members who wrote to the BBC following its Panorama broadcast on Monday (16 Aug).

Many of you will have by now received a reply from BBC Audience Services, justifying the broadcast about Israel’s deadly assault on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla as ‘balanced and impartial’.

This is not good enough, and we’re now asking you to take the next steps needed to keep up the pressure on the BBC and bring it to account for this shockingly biased piece of reporting.

What to do next:

Write back to the BBC

Stage 1:

a) Tell them you’re not satisfied with their response, and that you now want your complaint to be dealt with formally by the BBC Executive.

b) Include the case number given to you by BBC Audience Services (you’ll find this in the subject line of their reply email). Ask for a case number if you haven’t been given one.     This will enable you to follow the progress of the complaint.

c) Include your original complaint in the email.

Stage 2:

a) If after two more exchanges, you have not received a satisfactory response, write to The Editorial Complaints Unit, Room 5168, BBC White City, 201 Wood Lane, London, W12 7TS.

b) Your letter should not exceed 1,000 words (about four pages). Provide a one-page summary of your complaint.

c) Include the reference number, date and details of your final correspondence to and from the BBC Executive. This written complaint is important as it will be the main basis for deciding whether an appeal is taken on by the Editorial Complaints Unit.

Stage 3:

a) If an investigation by the Editorial Complaints Unit proves to be unsatisfactory, you can request an appeal to the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee.

b) For more information on this procedure, and a detailed guide on complaining to the BBC click here

Panorama: Death on the Med can be viewed here


Points to make during the complaints process

Breach of BBC rules on due impartiality. In particular:

  • The programme mentioned only once that the incident took place in international waters. There was no mention of, or examination of, maritime law regulating the protection of international shipping which states that the forceful boarding of a boat in international waters is illegal. The Israeli claim that commandos had a right to board the ship was accepted without question.
  • Israel’s four year siege of Gaza – which the flotilla was attempting to break – was mentioned briefly. However, viewers were not informed that the siege has been declared illegal by the UN, nor that Israel refuses to comply with UN resolutions to lift it. There was no indication of the desperate conditions inside Gaza, which the British PM has described as a ‘prison camp’. Yet these facts are significant when questioning – as the presenter, Jane Corbin, did – the motivation of people on the flotilla.
  • Ms Corbin, referred to the ‘thousands of rockets’ fired from Gaza into Israel. She did not say over what time period these were fired. Not a single reference was made to Israel’s continuous attacks on Gaza, for example the bombs, rockets and white phosphorus dropped by Israel on Gaza during its three week assault in 2008/9, which killed 1,400 Palestinians.
  • Israeli soldiers interviewed spoke freely of their fear that the activists on the Turkish boat, the Mavi Marmara, were going to ‘kill us all’ and ‘finish us off’. However, no airtime was given to the passengers’ accounts of the violence used against them by Israeli commandos, which resulted in the deaths of nine activists.
  • The programme, despite being entitled ‘Death on the Med’, barely mentioned the deaths of the nine activists killed by Israeli commandos. There was no examination of how they died, the level of violence used against them, or whether their deaths were avoidable. No use, or even mention, was made of the autopsy reports (indicating that five of those killed had been shot in the head), and the programme also failed to mention that over 50 passengers suffered serious injuries. However, a great deal of airtime was spent attempting to prove violence on the part of the activists.
  • There was no mention of the five other boats that made up the aid flotilla in addition to the Mavi Marmara. The programme consistently refused to reflect the international reality of the Freedom Flotilla – with MPs, dignitaries, journalists and citizens of many countries on board – of all religions and none.
  • The programme failed to mention that the other five boats on the flotilla were stormed (with the use of tasers, gas and sound bombs) and violently boarded by Israeli commandos, despite offering no resistance, with injuries being suffered by the passengers on board.
  • Viewers were not told that all footage taken by the activists, their cameras and laptops, were confiscated by Israel and have not been returned. Consequently, any footage used in the programme, including footage of gas masks and knives which Israel claims it found on the boat, has been supplied by Israeli sources. This should have been made clear.
  • The programme used constant footage of Israeli commandos being attacked by activists, but none of the Israeli assault on the activists – of which footage must exist – which left nine dead.

Breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that a journalist’s right to freedom of expression is subject to ‘the protection of the reputation or rights of others’. In particular:

  • The activists who took part in the flotilla were continually referred to as ‘terrorists’ by Israeli soldiers and spokespeople interviewed on the programme. This went unchallenged by the presenter, Jane Corbin, and no evidence was provided to back up the claims.
  • Ms Corbin repeated Israel’s widely known false allegations about the Turkish organisation, IHH, being a terrorist organisation, but no evidence was provided to substantiate this, and viewers were not informed that IHH carries out charity work around the world, not just in the Middle East.
  • Ms Corbin stated that IHH had attempted to recruit ‘fellow Islamists’ to join the flotilla. No evidence was given for this, or for the implied claim that IHH is an ‘Islamist’ organisation. Viewers were not told that passengers on the Mavi Marmara, and on all the boats in the flotilla, consisted of many nationalities and religions, and included European and US dignitaries and Parliamentarians.
  • Ms Corbin said IHH’s headquarters are based ‘in the most Islamic area of Istanbul’. There was no relevance to this comment, which served only to enforce the Islamophobic and racist tone of the programme. No evidence was provided to back up her claim.

Factual inaccuracies in the programme including:

  • Jane Corbin, stated that the ruling party in Gaza, Hamas, refuses to recognise Israel. In 2006, Hamas recognized that Israel exists and signalled its willingness to offer a long term truce in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal to 1967 borders. In fact, there has been a failure to recognise the results of the Palestinian legislative elections, which were declared free and fair by international observers, and resulted in Hamas winning the majority of seats.
  • The programme aired an audio recording, which it claimed was broadcast from the captain’s deck of the Mavi Marmara during the Israeli assault on the ship. However, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) issued a statement on 5 June 2010 admitting that it had doctored the recording in question. This was not mentioned by Ms Corbin.

The statement can be viewed here

Panorama: Death on the Med can be viewed here


The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) aims to raise public awareness about the occupation of Palestine and the struggle of the Palestinian people. PSC seek to bring pressure on both the British and Israeli government to bring their policies in line with international law. PSC is an independent, non-governmental and non-party political organisation with members from communities across the UK. Join PSC today!

Palestine Solidarity Campaign
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